News & Press
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MARIA KAUPAS CENTER HOLDS DAILY REFLECTION IN COMMUNITY GARDEN
On June 1st, Maria Kaupas Center staff invited teens to gather round their newly created community garden. There, garden coordinator Matt Whalen offered a prayer of thanksgiving as he educated teens about the benefits of healthy eating and the rewards of growing vegetables and herbs. The Center, which is a Catholic community center serving Marquette Park, plans to host neighborhood dinners throughout the summer that feature the harvests of their garden. For more information on this program as well as summer enrichment camps for elementary school students, please call 773.925.8686 or got to www.mariakauapscenter.com.
CAPTIAN FOR PIANO CLASS 5 MAESTRO 1: May 2015 2015
Maria Kaupas Center music volunteer and Maria High School alumna Anna Belle O’Shea teaches a student how to conduct an orchestra. O’Shea teaches piano lessons at the Center and invited guests to join her class as part of the MKC’s Friends and Families Open House event on May 26th. The Catholic community center is located at 2740 West 68th Street, Chicago, in the former convent of the Sisters of St. Casimir. The Sisters operated St. Casimir Academy and Maria High School for over 100 years but closed Maria in 2013 due to declining enrollment. They then helped create the Maria Kaupas Center which offers afterschool programming in cooking, art, music, sewing, drama, and gardening. Registration is now taking place for summer camps. If interested, please go to or call 773.925.8686.
Illinois Appellate Court Justice Jesse Reyes and attorney Dan Cotter, president of the Chicago Bar Association, met with teens at the Maria Kaupas Center on Monday, October 20th. Both men encouraged each student to identify a goal and pursue it confidently and relentlessly. Reyes and Cotter told how they pursued their dreams and career paths even though they weren’t always encouraged to do so. Justice Reyes shared with the teens that when he was in high school he wanted to become a lawyer, but a school advisor suggested he pursue a less academically rigorous field at a trade school. However, he was determined to follow his dreams and with hard work graduated from both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the John Marshall Law School. In 2012, Reyes became the first Latino elected to the Illinois Appellate Court. Both Jesse Reyes and Dan Cotter recognize the importance of giving back to the community and often speak to student groups. Cotter is also active in the Lawyers Lend-a-Hand to Youth Program, an organization that promotes best practice mentoring programs for children in disadvantaged communities.
The Maria Kaupas Center sponsored a dinner for friends and family members of ninth grade chefs who participated in Cooking with Mary – Prete-y Good Food! Volunteer instructor Mary Prete taught students how to read and interpret a recipe and prepare delicious food from scratch. Prete, a retired vice-president from the JS Pauluch Company, offered to share her passion for cooking with students at the Center. The final night of class had students prepare a three course meal for invited guests. The menu included salad, bread, barbecued chicken, baked macaroni, green beans, brownies, and apple crisp. Prete recognized the efforts of her students by giving each a personalized apron and booklet of all the recipes they had prepared through the course. Students thanked Prete for sharing her talents with them and recognized her as the best cook they know.
Keeping the spirit of Mother Maria in Marquette Park
By Joyce Duriga
When the Sisters of St. Casimir decided a few years ago to close Maria High School in the city’s Marquette Park neighborhood they knew that somehow they wanted to keep a Catholic presence on the site.
They established that presence through the Maria Kaupas Center, a youth community space housed in the former convent on school grounds and named for Venerable Mother Maria Kaupas, founder of the Sisters of St. Casimir. The center works with students from Catalyst Maria, the charter school located in the old Maria High School.
The Catalyst network was founded by the Christian Brothers as a way to provide quality, values- based education to children in two impoverished areas of Chicago. Catalyst schools are not religious, but do teach children values such as respect and compassion.
Sister of St. Casimir Margaret Zalot, councilor and general secretary of the community, said the sisters knew there would be a lot of children in the charter school who would still need opportunities for spiritual growth and good values.
“We’re really involved in this community here and we can see that there are needs here,” Zalot said.
When searching for someone to direct the program, the sisters reached out to Amy Eckhouse, a former teacher at Maria.
“I knew the clientele and the kids. And I had an idea of what they were saying,” she told the Catholic New World.
The convent, which is attached to the high school, provided ready-made space for the center with a large chapel, multipurpose space, a kitchen and dining area and even living quarters for overnight retreats.
In fall 2013, the first group of students from Catalyst joined the center. About 50 kids came daily after school from 4 to 6 p.m.
Starting up took a lot of work.
“The first day I came in here the walls were all white. I was sitting in a chair with no desk and I thought,
‘Oh my, God. Inspire me,’” Eckhouse said.
Today the walls are decorated with brightly colored inspirational messages and artwork created by the students. The sisters’ dining area has been converted into a lively teen space. Even some of the chairs are hand-painted by the students, each one with a different design and the bearing handprints of the painter.
The students also help lead groups in the center.
During the first year they had music sessions, drum circles and sewing and cooking classes. Grants from PNC Foundation and McLaughlin Foundation helped to cover expenses.
This past summer the center held a vacation Bible school from 9 a.m. until noon and then held a dropin from noon to 6 p.m.
Since the students are at school from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., when they get to the center “they are just out of it,” Eckhouse said. To help them refocus, she starts with prayer.
The very first thing that we do when they come is that we have reflection in the chapel. That’s our center,” she said.
Students appreciate the sacred space of the chapel, with one student telling Eckhouse that God hears their stories in the space of the chapel.
“This was our dream,” said Sister M. Immacula Wendt, assistant general superior and general treasurer of the congregation in the United States.
“These kids come into that chapel and just sit,” Sister Immacula said. “One of the questions that Amy asked them was if you met God today what would you ask him?”
The kids responded with questions such as: Why is my dad in jail? Why was my brother shot? Where is my mother?
Sister M. Immacula said it is important to keep Catholicity in schools that are no longer Catholic. The sisters believe this will be a model for other congregations as they are forced to close schools.
The kids feel safe coming to the center with many telling Eckhouse it is a “home away from home.”
The Maria Kaupas Center is in need of volunteers and donations of snacks and other supplies.
Maria Kapus Center Creates Community
Wednesday Activity Nights continue to be the hottest ticket in town. On August 6th, the MKC hosted its first every Poetry Slam where teen poets and singer/song-writers shared their talents with an appreciative audience. Plans are in the works to make this a regular event.
In conjunction with the Vicariate V Youth Ministry Commission of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the MKC hosted a mini coed softball tournament. Teens from the MKC, St. Nick’s, St. Gall’s, and St. Turibius enjoyed three summer evenings spent in friendly competition on the softball diamond. The tournament concluded with Mass in the MKC chapel, pizza, and more softball.
The Maria Kaupas Center is extremely happy to welcome Matt Whalen, a Capuchin Corps volunteer who will be working with us for the next year. A recent college grad, Matt comes to us from Florida, and he is excited to be part of the MKC mission.
School Ends, the Fun Continues at the MKC!
Summer programming and drop in hours began. Vacation Bible School offered younger students a chance to do crafts, sing songs, and enjoy snacks, all while learning about God.
Drop in hours invited teens to get out of the heat and chill with friends in the safe and nurturing environment of the MKC. In response to the teens’ requests, Program Director introduced Wednesday Activity Nights. On these special nights, the Center hosts a special event from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Some of the most popular activities included movie nights (with pop corn) and UNO Tournaments (with prizes).
The MKC is All About Peace
The Maria Kaupas Center co-sponsored a march for peace with Catalyst Maria School on June 13. On a beautiful sunny Friday morning, students marched around the perimeter of Marquette Park carrying signs urging people to END THE WAR, GIVE PEACE A CHANCE, AND HONK 4 PEACE.
The MKC was proud to be the host site for the annual Teen Service Week, an opportunity for teens from across the Chicagoland area to volunteer at a variety of organizations serving Chicago’s south side. Three of the MKC’s very own (Danielle, Dominique, and Ahvey) also participated in the program. Sites served included
Port Ministries Center (where volunteers helped prepare and distribute lunches to the hungry)
Tree House Animal Shelter
Safe Haven, a half-way house (where volunteers staff the kitchen, dining room, and the food pantry
TSW participants also conducted research on the food desert that makes healthy eating such a challenge for South Side residents, and they even helped out the MKC by painting a bright and colorful mural on the wall in the Kaupas Kafe.
The MKC hosted its first ever fundraiser. The first annual Rock’n Bowl was held on Friday, June 20 at Lawn Lanes. Participants enjoyed several games of bowling, pizza, drinks, raffles, and prizes. Next year’s event is already scheduled for June 19, 2015.
Hundreds of Chicagoland High School Students Preparing for Global Youth Service Day on Saturday, April 12th
[Orland Park, IL] — Now in its 26th year, Global Youth Service Day is the largest community service event in the world, and the only event dedicated to celebrating the contributions that young people make to their communities year-round. Several area schools, churches, and organizations will join forces in a variety of student-led service projects all over the Chicagoland area on Saturday, April 12, 2014 as part of an international campaign that celebrates the power of young people... High school students from all over the Chicagoland area are being challenged to create and lead service projects that are meaningful to them, or join an existing project that they are interested in supporting. In years past, service projects have ranged from cleaning kennels at a local animal shelter to creating care packages for military families.
The Maria Kaupas Center will be participating in its inaugural Global Youth Service Day! Our project is aptly titled "Operation Easter Bunny." The MKC will be collecting donations of candy, toys, and other Easter items to fill containers. On Saturday, April 12th, the MKC teens will fill the cups and then Ms.Eckhouse and Ms.Quinn will deliver them to Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.
This service project is an important part of the MKC's mission. We are bringing a simple joy to kids who have less than we have. It's an important lesson in restorative justice. We seek to correct these imbalances-- thus creating a kinder, more just world.
The MKC Continues to Expand
The MKC was awarded two grants to expand programming. The Lasallian Education Fund awarded the Center funds to offer Vacation Bible School in July as well as a ‘Tweens Talk program in the fall. The McLaughlin Faith Foundation provided funding to introduce restorative justice practices to both the school and wider community. The Maria Kaupas Center was a repeat grantee for both organizations, and the McLaughlin Faith Foundation chose to recognize the work done at the MKC in a video at their awards dinner.
Fourth and fifth grade participants in the MKC’s drum circle (generously sponsored and facilitated by Harmony, Hope and Healing) performed a hand-clapping, feet-stomping, smile-inducing concert at the Sisters of St. Casimir Motherhouse. Afterwards, the Sisters treated the performers and guests to cookies and lemonade.
Tours of the Maria Kaupas Center and Catalyst-Maria School were a popular part of the SCA/MHS Annual Alumnae Reunion, held at the SSC Motherhouse. Alums enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Maria building and learn about the ways the MKC is helping students and neighborhood residents build community.
The MKC’s partnership with Holy Cross Hospital continues to grow. The hospital sponsors a weekly diabetes education class in the Kaupas Kafe, and one of the May meetings included a hands-on healthy cooking class.
Everyone at the MKC was excited to welcome Miss Josie to the staff. Josie Magana, a local college student, has joined the MKC team to assist Executive Director Carmen Ontiveros and Program Director Amy Eckhouse. Miss Josie was an immediate hit with the kids when she introduced them to the card game UNO.
The MKC Girls Shine
The Maria Kaupas Center continued to expand its audience and extend its mission into the Chicago Lawn community by offering its first adult programming. MKC volunteer Mireya Hernandez formed an ELL class to help Spanish-speaking community members gain confidence with the English language.
The MKC was pleased to host an informal reunion of Maria High School faculty/staff members and former MHS students. Mystic spirit was alive and strong as everyone shared memories about their years at Maria. Everyone was heartened to see that the charism of the Sisters of St. Casimir and the legacy of Maria High School had found renewed energy and purpose in the work done at the MKC.
The MKC successfully hosted its second overnight retreat for girls who attend Catalyst-Maria High School. Girls experienced camaraderie, friendship building, and spiritual exploration. They felt free to express themselves and question themselves in an accepting, loving environment. Much of the retreat was spent discussing and exploring relationships. According to post-retreat surveys, the girls learned:
They desire a relationship with God
To improve their relationships with other people they must first improve their relationship with God
They must love themselves before they can truly love someone else
They need to take relationships with boys slowly and trust their own instincts so that they can make wise decisions
That God is love and love alone, and that He will always be there for them.
Sr. Mary Paul McCaughey, OP, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago paid a visit to the MKC after hearing about our efforts to make spiritual and faith-based experiences available to students in public schools. She learned that the Center has become an inner-city evangelization model for organizations in other states, and she acknowledged the Center as a “sacred space.”
Several MKC-ers were recognized at the annual Vicariate V Youth Service Awards sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Briana Young, Ahvay Jackson, Danielle Starling, Dominique Starling and Honesty Jackson attended the April 6th banquet held at the Lexington House in Hickory Hills. The girls received awards from the Most Reverend Andrew P. Wypych, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago for their commitment to community service.